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The Power of the Pivot - Lessons from Yellowstone

career change career pivot job change mindset new job pivot Nov 14, 2022

We had no power in Yellowstone National Park. It was AWESOME!


I had the chance to take a great vacation with my husband and a dear friend of ours to explore a part of the country none of us had ever visited. We flew into Denver and made a big road trip out of it. We visited Mt. Rushmore, Wounded Knee, and Yellowstone National Park. We had great weather, many laughs, fabulous meals, great conversations, and we created some wonderful memories during our trek.


When we entered Yellowstone, we stopped at a rest area around noon and noticed there was no power. We thought it was an isolated incident, but when we checked into our rooms a few hours later, we saw that the entire park was without power. They were running on generators to check in guests. Still, as I started to listen to the various conversations, it was apparent that some people were frustrated that there was no electricity.


Imagine being in Yellowstone, and there is no electricity. What a story!


Our friend suggested we head over to the lodge and grab an early dinner in case the electricity remained out for the rest of the day. We got in line at the cafeteria and managed to grab one of their last hot meals. Sitting in the lodge, we overheard some people asking what they would do about their dinner reservations. It was amazing to listen to their well-made plans being potentially thrown into chaos and how they just couldn’t pivot.


Everyone there was sharing a fantastic experience.

We were in one of our country’s most amazing national parks, and people were more worried about charging their cell phones than taking in the magnificent scenery and nature around them. (By the way, there was minimal reception in the park anyway.)


After dinner, we returned to our rooms and called it an early night. We talked. We read. I stayed up, watched the sun go down, and slowly saw the park get darker as the night progressed until the sunlight was replaced by moonlight. It was incredible. I don’t believe I would have had that experience had we had electricity.


The lights came on around 9:45 p.m. Shortly after that, I called it a night. I could have easily been stressed out by not having any electricity, but I chose to pivot and just go with it.


In this situation, one could either play the role of a “victim” because there was no electricity and think that the entire night was ruined, or one could be an “opportunist” and take the chance to do something different or unique given the surroundings.



So, here are a few questions to consider:

  • What does “pivoting” in the workplace mean to you?
  • When you think about your career, do you often fall into “victim” or “opportunist” mode?


When we go into “victim” mode, we feel and believe we can never win. No matter what we do and how much we try, we can’t get a win. This energy drains us. It makes us feel defeated and unable to succeed at anything. But how accurate is that belief?


When we live in “opportunist” mode, we are looking at the situation from an entirely different lens. We seek out what we can learn and what we get to do. And what we can be excited about given the situation.


There have been times in my career when I have lived in “victim” mode and times when I have been in “opportunist” mode. When I’ve lived in “victim” mode, it didn’t serve me very well. I always felt like I was spinning my wheels and simply trying to fight or get around whatever was in my way. When I lived in “opportunist” mode, I recognized I had a chance to learn something.


Here’s an example. In 2009, I wanted to move to Washington, D.C., for personal and professional reasons. I applied for a wonderful job with the District of Columbia Public Schools, managing an instructional coaching program. It was a chance to take my educational career to the next level. I was notified that I was seriously being considered for the job a final decision was pending based on budgetary funding. I was leaving lunch in early June when I got a phone call from my “soon-to-be” boss telling me that the budget wasn’t secured and she couldn’t offer me the position. I was devasted.


I felt as if I couldn’t get a win. There were moments when I felt like, “why me” and “why couldn’t this work out for me.” But that wasn’t how I wanted to “show up.” When I had some time to wipe away the tears and disappointment, I realized that there was something I was supposed to learn by waiting another year. I wasn’t exactly sure what it was, but I knew it was something.


Here’s what I learned:

  • I had the opportunity to define my leadership voice further. There were many opportunities where I saw a chance to step up and lead. I saw every opportunity as a chance to learn something and be a better leader.
  • I honed my craft in the classroom and as a union leader.
  • I became a better partner in my relationship.
  • I appreciated experiences more because I knew if I was going to move and relocate at the end of next year, I could savor each experience with more appreciation.


All of those things served me well. And I am happy to say that I was able to make a move in 2010 and got the chance to work for the District of Columbia Public Schools. I had some fantastic experiences working with a team of 21 instructional coaches!


The pivot is based on the lenses we wear when we look at situations. Not everything is going to be all “rose-colored,” but how we “show up” and choose to act in those situations helps us figure out where we want to move and how we want to pivot.


I often think back to my time in Yellowstone, sitting behind 25 bison blocking the road.

What’s there to do? It’s not like you will honk your horn at a bunch of bison in their home. You just sit, wait, and enjoy it. After all, it’s not like those experiences happen every day!



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